A research team from the Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) has succeeded in creating a portable scanning system that's capable of looking inside objects or structures and revealing hidden secrets. Using technology similar to that used for full body scans at airports, the new transmission mode camera system can detect, collect, process and display millimeter-wave and microwave signal information in real time and at adjustable focus points between the transmitter and collector aperture. The whole setup is powered by a single laptop-sized battery, with the results being displayed on a notebook screen.

Research into using microwave and millimeter-wave signals to test, inspect and evaluate objects or structures without affecting their functionality has been going on for some time, and researchers have been looking for high resolution, real-time, portable imaging systems for many years. Now an Missouri S&T research team led by Dr. Reza Zoughi has developed and patented a new portable system which is capable of non-intrusively peeking inside objects and structures in real time and at various focal points.

The system is made up of a grid array collector with 576 resonance slots operating at a frequency of 24GHz, which are switched rapidly to create a scattered magnitude and phase field over the 6 x 6-inch aperture. Opposite the collector sits an open-ended transmitter that sends a wave over the area of the aperture. When an object is placed in the middle, the collector detects the scattered field over the resonance slots and sends the relative magnitude and phase data to specially developed software on a notebook computer for processing and display at speeds of up to 30 frames per second.

The software displays the real-time relative magnitude in the top left window and the phase is shown below. The system can also be focused along the horizontal plane to examine different points inside an object or structure, and this information is shown in a window to the top right of the notebook display. A slider beneath the window is used to move the focal point back and forward across the plane. Below that is a window which shows the results from applying filters to the process.

"In the not-so-distant future, the technology may be customized to address many critical inspection needs, including detecting defects in thermal insulating materials that are found in spacecraft heat insulating foam and tiles, space habitat structures, aircraft radomes and composite-strengthened concrete bridge members," said Dr. Zoughi. Medical and security applications are also a possibility.

The first prototype was created in 2007 and the team has spent the last three years reducing the size of the equipment and improving its efficiency. Although the current system is portable and can run up to five hours on the laptop-sized battery powering it, the researchers are hoping to further refine the system so that the transmitter and collector are made part of the same piece of equipment. They're also looking to develop a wide-band camera capable of producing 3D or holographic images.

View gallery - 10 images